Chapter & Verse: fragrances inspired by literature

Fragrance and literature have a scented symbiosis, a way of piercing beneath layers of logic to reach our most instinctive emotions. They tap into deep-seated memories, dare us to dream, and share the power to make us feel a certain way, even if we don’t fully understand why. Consequently, English Literature is a particularly bountiful resource for perfumes – so many have taken inspiration from the pages of novels, hoping to evoke the atmosphere of the story itself, or exemplify famous characters through the ages.

This cultural crossover allows us to indulge in our greatest fragrant fantasies, immersing ourselves further in the myriad escape routes from reality we’re beckoned toward within a library (or fragrance department); adding an extra olfactory appreciation for the world the author has created and, consequentially, giving greater context to the perfumer’s composition.

Writers frequently allude to other senses when attempting to fully plunge the reader into a plot – the most skilled wielding the sense of smell as another character, almost, or underlining that most private, inner world the other characters inhabit. On the subject of smell and literature, of course we most often think of the brilliantly disturbing Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, but as Catherine Maxwell reflects in her interdisciplinary and scholarly tome, Scents & Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture, ‘Smell’s evocative capacity, its connection to atmosphere and memory, make it a potent means of registering the particularity of a historical and cultural moment.’ Even if it’s not actual fragrances the author refers to in their work, Maxwell explains, ‘Culture is still a factor for those more conservative aesthetes who prefer natural scents to to perfumed products; the flowers they enjoy are frequently enhanced with mythic or literary association.’

 

 

 

 

Whatever their procilvities, both author and perfumer have stories to tell: one in the words they choose to play with on the page, the other via scented chapters that slowly unfurl on your skin. Those of you who cannot suppress the almost iressistible urge to vigorously rub your wrists together having spritzed a fragrance might like to know this unnaturally warms up the top notes and makes them evaporate more quickly.

Some (rather melodramatically) say this ‘destroys the perfume’, but I prefer to liken it to flicking through the first few pages of a book – yes, you’ll still get a sense of the story, but you may have missed some vital clues to the fragrant characters within; the narrator setting the scented tone, if you will.

Nothing worse than accidentally landing on a page and finding out whodunnit before you even know who’s who to do anything to. The same is true of a fragrance – allow it to settle in properly before you make a hasty decision. Now, with that perfumed preface out the way, I’ll dismount the lectern so we can dive into the scented stories themselves, and discover which you might be best paired with, for as Master Perfume Jean -Calude Ellena says:

‘Perfume is a story in odour, sometimes a poetry in memory…’

 

 

 

Sarah Baker Parfums Far From the Madding Crowd

Juxtaposing idyllic pastoral scenes with simmeringly intense emotions, this fragrance references Thomas Hardy’s book of the same name, seeking to evoke an atmosphere that is, to quote Baker, ‘simultaneously exquisitely beautiful and cruelly unforgiving.’ Amidst the beautiful note of helitrope – a flower that often grows wild among ancient hedgerows – dangerous declarations and balmy evenings are poised betwixt the romantic idealism of a country picnic. Think long summer grasses, orchards filled with fallen fruits, wide meadows to run through in gauzy gowns, willows to sit beneath while passionately pining.

£95 for 50ml eau de parfum or try a sample in their Discovery Set for £25 / VIP price £21

 

Histoire de Parfums 1804 George Sand

Renowned for her androgynous pen name, Sand was ‘the incarnation of the first modern woman’, and forms a central part of the brand’s literary leanings (which include an intriguing voyage via their 1828 Jules Verne and the rather more risqué 1740 Marquis de Sade). This vibrant throb of a scent tempts the senses with succulent pineapple before lavishly decorating with tall vases of white flowers and coming to rest on the warm, ambered sensuality of the spices that ripple throughout. If ‘fruity’ fragrances have previously made you recoil, come back into the fold with this utterly grown-up and bosomy embrace.

From £36 for 15ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

Parfums Dusita Montri

A writer, traveller and strong yet gentle man who spent a lot of time in Paris, this fragrance was not only inspired by one of his poems, the office he wrote in and the materials he used – it radiates a sense of his poetic soul. A refined and ultra smooth blend of sophisticated spices are seamlessly stirred through orris butter, rose and Oud Palao. Ah, but this is a sheer, spacious and uplifting oud that speaks of wooden desks, piles of papers, the gentle scratch of a fountain pen on parchment and writing as the sun sets. An elegantly comforting scent that feels immediately timeless, how perfect for perfumer Pissara Umavijani to honour her literary father in this way, and what an honour for us, the wearers, to share it.

€150 for 50ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

Guerlain Mitsouko

Author Claude Farrère was a close friend of Jacques Guerlain, so when Farrère included a Guerlain fragrance in his novel Opium Smoke, describing ‘Jicky poured drop by drop onto the hands blackened by the drug’, Jacques was thrilled at the symbiosis and returned the favour by naming one of his greatest ever creations after a character in Farrès novel La Bataille. Conjuring romanticism as see through a woman’s eyes, this scent is a complex unfurling of cinnamon infused, milk-lapped plump peach skin, the oakmoss trail that lingering beguilingly for hours. The masterful current reformulation by Thierry Wasser is as close as we’ll get to the original, thanks to oakmoss restrictions, but oh it’s a must-sniff for literary and perfume lovers alike.

£112 for 75ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

 

 

4160 Tuesdays Shazam!

In a turnaround of the usual perfume inspiration process (fragrances based on books), here’s one that began life as a scent that only existed in a novel, The Scent of Possibilty, written by the perfumer and founder of the house, Sarah McCartney. Finally realeased as a fragrance it shimmers with all the mystique of a Marrakesh Medina – an ultra classic amber base of dark labdanum balsam and soft vanillin that blooms in the heat to encompass ‘a whole spice market.’ Puncuated by fizzing pops of pink pepper, an aromatic breeze of juniper berries and basil, the scent invites an imaginary bird’s-eye view of the scene it’s set in, ‘swooping low over the bustling square, Jemaa el-Fnaa’, freshly-squeezed oranges and all.

£65 for 50ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

 

Frederic Malle's Portrait of a Lady perfume

Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady

In Henry James’ eponymous novel, protagonist Isabel Archer sulks her way through immaculate gardens, burdened by blessings of too much beauty, intelligence and wealth [#thoughtsandprayers] while James himself seems to scamper behind, awed by her melancholy and reflecting that ‘a visit to the recesses of one’s spirit was harmless when one returned from it with a lapful of roses.’ Dominique Ropion’s fragrance leads the wearer face-first into that lap, a rambunctiously sexualised and swaggeringly confident portrait of the woman she might have been, perhaps; the shadier bowers ravaged for ripe berries, lips stained vermillion from their juice, petals torn as velvety pocketfulls of roses are ripped from their stems. A page-turner on the skin, for sure.

£188 for 50ml eau de parfum

Written by Suzy Nightingale

How to Bottle Hope – the scent of snowdrops

During the greyest months of the year, when life seems dormant and waiting, there is one little glimpse of brighter times to come – a whiff of hope on the frosty breeze – in that cheering moment we first spot a snowdrop. Yes, that might sound clichéd, but I defy you to smother a smile when you see one. Delicately scented with a lightly honeyed, creamy almond kind of smell, the latin name ‘Galanthus‘ means ‘milky flower’, and this tiny bloom has gathered centuries of fragrant folklore around its origins, continuing to inspire perfumers with its transcendent prettiness.

 

Native to Alpine regions, where they thrive amidst the cold, mountainous climes; snowdrops are believed to have first appeared in the British Isles when they were brought there by monks. It’s rather nice to imagine them tenderly tucked in religious robes while they travelled, but however they first arrived, they took root in the frozen winter soil of this country, and in our souls, somehow. Perhaps we were seduced by the mythology – stories passed down through generations, such as the legend recounted on the snowdrop-centric website snowdrops.me: ‘when you listen closely,’ they explain, ‘you can hear their bells ringing, trying to wake up nature from its winter sleep.’ Even more beautiful is the ancient German tale re-told on The Creative Countryside blog:

 

 

‘At the beginning of all things when life was new, the Snow sought to borrow a colour. The flowers were much admired by all the elements but they guarded their colour’s jealousy and when the Snow pleaded with them, they turned their backs in contempt for they believed the Snow cold and unpleasant. The tiny humble snowdrops took pity on the Snow for none of the other flowers had shown it any kindness and so they came forth and offered up to the Snow their colour. The Snow gratefully accepted and became white forevermore, just like the Snowdrops. In its gratitude, the Snow permitted the little pearly flowers the protection to appear in winter, to be impervious to the ice and bitter chill. From then on, the Snow and the Snowdrops coexisted side by side as friends.’

 

I’ll be the first to admit the smell of snowdrops isn’t effusive, it doesn’t billow through the woods as a scented cloud harkening Spring; but though tenderly scented, it’s the symbolism of this flower that so inspires perfumers, I think. And to which we feel drawn – perhaps likening ourselves to the ‘brave’ flower having clung on through icy conditions, and having managed to immerge, even through the frozen ground. A triumph of beauty over adversity that’s also evoked in writer Vikki Bentley’s poem, which was penned in conjunction with the launch of Anglea Flander’s Lawn fragrance:

These gauzy mornings
there’s a reason why you push your bed pillow-close
to the open window so that the cool, the light
bathes you awake five o’clock and eager
to leave diseased dreams and watch
the calm, silver sheet of the
dawning lawn catch the
unhurried tumble of
a petal’s feather curl
for in the blink of that first, not-quite time
you still believe in the lightness of your footfall
stepping out onto the fresh, the wet
beneath your soles, between your toes;
inhaling silver, tasting green as
each liquid call in the chorus
trickles down to touch the
newness in you
until the truth of the day scorches through
Vicci Bentley

 

snowdrops the scent of hope photo by <a href='https://www.freepik.com/photos/background'>Background photo created by freepic.diller - www.freepik.com</a>

 

Quietly scented (to us) they may be, but that smell acts as a clarion call for potential pollinators. The composition of the snowdrop’s fragrant waft depends on the type of insect it wants to attract. The honeyed kind attract bees (and us), but because the snowdrop is a fairly recent inhabitant on British shores, the scent they exude can also be a wordless cry to a species not available here. So, not all snowdrops have a smell that pleases the masses. Explains the National Plant Collection of Galanthus at Bruckhills Croft in Aberdeenshire on their snowdrops.me blog (where you can purchase several varieties of the flower): ‘The species Koenenianus is often described as having a smell of animal urine or bitter almonds, so perhaps has evolved to attract pollenating beetles in its native North-Eastern Turkey?’

Focussing on the tenderly honeyed side of their scent (thank goodness), perfumers tend to use a blend of notes to evoke these seasonal flagposts of hope in their fragrances – boosting their brightness, smoothing the edges, radiating anticipation. Such is the alchemy of a fragrant composition, we might be smelling lily-of-the-valley or bluebell accords (also imagined evocations) or the dewy green of violet leaf. Creamy white musks are often used to create that elegant shiver of the flower, or a whisper of cool woodiness wafting an imagined breeze to shake their bells. Conversely, the sense of snowdrops may be borrowed to add pale shafts of sunlight within the darkness of a scent, the contrast emboldening the harmony of the whole blend.

So, while you may not pick up a bottle and confidently declare ‘Aha! I detect snowdrops!’ we can quite willingly succumb to the romance of the story, and cling on to the feeling of hopefulness each of these fragrances grant the wearer…

 

 

 

 

Shay & Blue Black Tulip £55 for 100ml
Contrasts abound as white chocolate swathes spiced plum, but before gourmand-avoiders back away, it’s not overtly sweet – think of it more like the silky ‘mouth-feel’ amidst swathes of bright snowdrops and creamy cyclamen. The dark heart hushes to wood shavings, curls of chocolate still falling like snowflakes.

 

 

‘A note of grassiness in the air and a promise of flowers to come, snowdrops & woodland bulbs are making an entrance.

 It feels as if it’s time to wear a fresher note in fragrance too. For the first time this year I instinctively reached for my bottle of Lawn, yearning for the dewy galbanic freshness that later warms on the skin like the mid day sun.’ – Kate Evans [Angela Flander’s daughter, now perfumer for the house]

Angela Flanders Lawn £75 for 30ml eau de parfumKate learned perfumery at her mother’s knee, taking over the house after Angela died, with this dew-speckled, dawn-struck scent her first offering. ‘Lawn marked a new start for me as a perfumer’, she explains, ‘and is therefore a most appropriate scent for the time of year when we feel ready to embrace the promise of a new season.’

 

 

Perfumer H Snowdrop from £150 for 50ml eau de parfum

The glacial gust of the central white floral accord – Tunisian jasmine and orange flower absolute – is crisp with snapped green stems, Lyn Harris creating a dampened breeze of iris and carrot seed atop drenched mossy notes on a frosty, woody backbone of spikier juniper. The scented personification of a sanguine elegance, you’ll float.

 

Zoologist Snowy Owl £195 for 100ml extrait de parfum
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s calone-based ‘snow accord’ imagines the backdrop for the owl’s scented swooping: ‘A thick carpet of silver envelops the landscape, untouched but for the dazzling reflection of the sun.’ Icy mint, lily of the valley and coconut drift to snowdrops and sap-filled galbanum, softly feathered by the moss-snuggled base.

 

A portrait of a frozen stream in perfumed form, snowdrops and freesia are lapped by lychee water, peony petals and jasmine hinting at warmer days, clementine blossom a burat of happiness amidst misty, crystalline musks. Then, the smooth teakwood base is whipped through with fluffs of creamy vanilla for an ambient blanket of calm.

By Suzy Nightingale

Richard E Grant explores Süskind’s Perfume novel

Richard E. Grant explores the world of Süskind’s Perfume novel in episode 2 of his new BBC series, Write Around the World, and we think you’ll be captivated by his so-evocative scent journey…

‘I’ve been led by nose all my life,’ says Richard. ‘When I was 12 years old I tried to make a perfume with gardenia and rose petals – to impress a girl I was madly in love with, called Betty Clapp. It took me 56 years to create my own professional perfume brand here in Grasse.’ He’s there for part of his wonderful new BBC series, Write Around the World, traversing those places that have inspired iconic writers through history – Grasse being the perfume capital of the world and the setting for one of Richard’s favourite books: ‘Patrick Süskind’s Perfume novel… the best description of scent I’ve ever come across, and reading it is almost a physical experience.’

 

The BBC say: ‘Book and travel lover Richard E Grant journeys to southern France, visiting the Cévennes mountains, Marseille, Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera and Grasse in the hills north of Cannes, in the footsteps of writers inspired by the country, its culture and history.

Reading key passages from their books as he goes along, including works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas, F Scott Fitzgerald, Elizabeth David and Patrick Süskind, Richard not only learns about the lives of these great authors, but also experiences many of the places immortalised in the literary classics they created.’

Richard’s own fragrant journey led him to the brilliant perfumer Alienor Massenet. She garlanded his original idea (and favourite flower) of gardenia with marijuana (a nod to his film, Withnail and I), mandarin, vetiver and a plethora of spices, with a sophisticated, cologne-like zing of lime up top, capturing all Richard’s favourite smells in an intensely personal ‘signature’ scent. That fragrance is now immortalised as Jack – the first of the synonymous collection, and a scent which succeeded in winning the Fragrance Foundation Award for Best Independent Fragrance in 2015.

 

In the episode Richard wanders through Grasse with obvious delight, his nose veritably twitching as he sees (and smells) the places described in the novel, even having a fragrance created for him at the historic house of Galimard, which he names for Grenouille, the novel’s protagonist. Little wonder, given his scent obsession, that Richard went on to add three other fragrances to his collection, which you can explore in our page dedicated to the house of Jack.

‘Our sense of smell is the shortest synaptic leap in the brain to our memory,’ says Richard, ‘and every one of these ingredients is like a sensory trigger. I’ve aspired to create a fragrance that is as lickably moreish as it’s addictive.’

For a fragrantly inspiring journey of your own, we suggest watching the episode, reading Patrick Süskind’s Perfume (if you’ve not already, you’re in for a treat!), and then truly indulging your sense of smell by exploring the full range of Jack fragrances

 By Suzy Nightingale

Your scented summer reading list

If you can’t get away this year, at least we can enjoy planning a scented summer reading list. Have a look at what’s on ours… Now the weather’s playing nicely we can finally plan some outdoor activities, chief among which, for us, includes sitting in the sun (slathered in SPF, obvs) with a good book.

We’ve whole shelves full of Fragrant Reads and perfume-themed books for you to peruse, but here we’ve selected some favourites to entice your senses while (hopefully) finding time to relax in the sunshine this summer….

 

 

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro [Harpercollins] waterstones.com

A novel after our own hearts (and noses) this ‘richly evocative tale is a ‘secret history of scent, memory and desire’ and begins in the 1950s with newly-married socialite Grace Munroe’s life being turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious letter, naming her as the beneficiary of a woman called Eva D’Orsay, who, it turns out, was the darling of high society and a fragrant muse for perfumers in the 1920s. The journey of discovery leads Grace to the heart of the perfume world, travelling to Paris and exploring the life and death of this shadowy benefactor. Traversing decadently through the decades in New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, as Grace finds out more, and indulges her own senses, she will be changed forever when forced to choose between the image of what society experts of her, and who she really is…

 

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni [Black Swan imprint] foyles.co.uk

Granted a rare gift of a superior sense of smell, Elena’s passion for perfume has been passed down through generations of her family; but it’s a power that can all too often overwhelm her, as this ability means painful memories about her mother are carried on the breeze, and so she can never truly escape her past. When a betrayal destroys her dreams, fragrant events are set in motion when Elena’s best friend invites her to Paris, and she grabs at the chance to start afresh. Lured by the landscape, immersing herself in the world of scent once again, the ancient art of composing perfume beckons our protagonist. Searching for a secret recipe within her family’s historic archives, Elena’s new goal becomes the replication of a composition noone in her family managed to master. Having met a man who’s harbouring his own clandestine past; before long, she’s following the scent trail to discover all manner of mysterious. Because, ‘Remember Elena, perfume is the truth. The only thing that really counts. Perfume never lies, perfume is what we are, it’s our true essence…’

 

A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman [Vintage Books] amazon.co.uk

The title doesn’t do this justice: Ackerman’s writing is poetically exquisite and immediately evocative – exploring and explaining not just the sense of smell, but all the senses. In the first chapter – Smell – she looks at scent and memory, at roses, at sneezing, at the way our health (and what we eat) impacts on our body odour. Something to read that shakes the very foundations of how you’ll look at smell and fragrance. Although this book is over 20 years old, it’s timeless and deserves to be read by anyone with even a passing interest in smell and how it relates to our everyday lives. Thumbing through this (which we have a hunch you will do, many, many times over the years), you’ll learn answers to questions you never knew you had, and though of course we wish it was ALL about smell, with ‘dissertations on kisses and tattoos, sadistic cuisine and the music played by the planet Earth…’ think of the other four chapters as simply a gift with purchase that will similarly engage all your senses.

 

The Scent of You by Maggie Alderson [Harper Collins] waterstones.co.uk

‘I experience the world through smell – I always have’ it begins,  and we couldn’t agree more. Maggie was inspired to write this novel by spending time in our own Perfume Society office, attending launches and meeting perfumers, learning the history of perfume and developing a burning passion for it along the way. Central character, Polly, is a perfume blogger who loses herself in the world of fragrance while her own world falls to pieces around her – something many of us can empathise with. We love the fact Maggie was inspired to name her after falling madly for Vilhelm’s perfume, Dear Polly, and that she even created a blog and Instagram account for Polly to share her perfume reviews. Polly, having grown up surrounded by the beautiful perfume bottles of her ultra glam (ex-model) mother, and learning to explore the world by sniffing ‘…everything!’ she is now distracting herself with, among other things, ‘Guy, the mysterious, infuriating and hugely talented perfumer.’ We’re rather wondering who this may have been based on, as that description doesn’t sufficiently narrow it down…

 

Scents & Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture by Catherine Maxwell (OUP) blackwells.co.uk

Gathering the fragrant thoughts of luminaries from Oscar Wilde to H.G. Wells, don’t be put off by the scholarly look – it’s a sumptuous plunge that presents perfume as a character in its own right. And it will spark a whole new ‘must read’ list! Did you know that Victorian ladies were warned off wearing tuberose in case it caused involuntary orgasms, so headily narcotic was the aroma? Read about this and more in Perfume Society VIP subscriber Catherine Maxwell’s fascinating book, which also features the astonishingly scathing observations of Virginia Woolf, quoted from her diaries, on women who wore too much perfume. What she has to say about fellow author Katherine Mansfield’s chosen fragrance is one of the shadiest things we’ve ever read!

By Suzy Nightingale

Perfumed Plume Awards 2021 – Winners announced!

The Perfumed Plume Awards 2021 have just been announced, and we’re popping the fizz on a school night!

These awards are an independent, annual showcase of international journalism that gives ‘an inside view of the cultural, historic, scientific and personal approaches to fragrance design and what it takes to create an evocative scent.’

The organisers said: ‘Considering the ongoing challenges even now, we applaud each and every finalist (not to forget all the writers who submitted) for their masterful writing. It is always an honor to receive so many entries.’

‘We look forward to celebrating the winners this year, whether virtually or in person, and we are happy to kick off the award festivities by announcing the finalists as below,’ comment award Co-Founders Lyn Leigh and Mary Ellen Lapsansky.

‘The creativity in both the descriptive word and the visualisation of scent in all its glory is on full display this year and is nothing short of stupendous,’ added Miranda Gordon, Vice President Fine Fragrances Marketing & Evaluation, MANE. ‘Deserving of much recognition and admiration for their talent and commitment to the art of fragrance. Please read their stories. You will be rewarded!’

We were, once again, thrilled to be shortlised as finalists – especially with regular writer for The Scented Letter Magazine, Persolaise, being our fellow finalist in the first category, below. Given the number of extremely talented entrants from around the world, we’re even prouder to say… we won an award!

Many congratulations to all finalists, and winners, whom we’ve highlighted in bold type. We so hope we can all meet in person next year! Meanwhile, please do go and read these stories, linked below: you’re in for a fragrant treat…

 

 

PERFUME STORIES IN MAINSTREAM MEDIA – PRINT – MAGAZINES & NEWSPAPERS

The criteria for judging: quality of editorial content; originality & creativity; accuracy & depth of information:

Modern Florals (Heavy Petalling)
WINNER: Suzy Nightingale – The Scented Letter
The Changing Face of Fragrance
Persolaise – The Scented Letter 

PERFUME STORIES IN MAINSTREAM MEDIA – DIGITAL – MAGAZINES, NEWSPAPERS, BLOG POSTINGS, WEBZINES

The criteria for judging: quality of editorial content; originality & creativity; accuracy & depth of information:

 

 

SHORT ‘N SWEET PERFUME STORIES – PRINT OR DIGITAL

The criteria for judging: quality of editorial content; originality & creativity; accuracy & depth of information:

 

 

VISUALISATION OF PERFUME STORIES – PRINT & DIGITAL

The criteria for judging: design concept; how design relates to content:

 

 

INSTApost – PERFUME STORIES ON INSTAGRAM

The criteria for judging: originality/creativity of visual element(s); quality of the post content:

FRAGRANCE BOOK OF THE YEAR

Winner determined by the Perfumed Plume Consulting Committee:

Zaza’s Scent-sational Super Power
SPECIAL AWARD: Alexis Wintrob and Illustrator Shera Serrulha

Fragrant books to snuggle up & fall in love with

There’s all manner of fragrantly themed books on our shelf of scented reading, but did you know that among the many stunning coffee-table books and more scientific, technical tomes; there are a number of romance novels and floral volumes we think you’ll fall in love with?

Spring is just around the corner, we know, but until it fully blooms we’re still somewhat in hibernation mode. So why not grab a cup of coffee or indulge yourself with hot chocolate, wrap yourself in a cosy blanket and take some time to snuggle up with one of these brilliant perfume-related books…?

 

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

This ‘richly evocative novel is a ‘secret history of scent, memory and desire’ and begins in the 1950s with newly-married socialite Grace Munroe’s life being turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious letter, naming her as the beneficiary in the will of a woman called Eva D’Orsay. Requested to attend the offices of the lawyers handling her inheritence, the main problem is that Grace has never even heard of this woman. But her journey of discovery will lead to the heart of the perfume world, travelling to Paris and exploring the life and death of this shadowy benefactor who, it turns out, was the darling of high society in the 1920s. Traversing decadently through the decades in New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, Grace discovers Eva was a famed fragrant muse, and someone who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumers to immortalise her in three groundbreaking fragrances. As Grace finds out more, and indulges her own senses, she will be changed forever when forced to choose between the image of what society experts of her, and who she really is…

Buy it at waterstones.com

 

The Scent of You by Maggie Alderson

‘I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ So begins this novel by Maggie Alderson, and we couldn’t agree more. Maggie was inspired to write this novel by spending time in our own Perfume Society office, attending launches and meeting perfumers, learning the history of perfume and developing a burning passion for it along the way. Central character, Polly, is a perfume blogger who loses herself in the world of fragrance while her own world falls to pieces around her – something many of us can empathise with. Polly, having grown up surrounded by the beautiful perfume bottles of her ultra glam (ex-model) mother, and learning to explore the world by sniffing ‘…everything!’ she is now distracting herself with, among other things, ‘Guy, the mysterious, infuriating and hugely talented perfumer.’ Completely gripping, the story of a life in crisis and wonderfully observed, it’s a perfect cosy read for anyone who also experiences the world through smell (that’ll be most of you, then!)

Buy it at waterstones.com

 

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

Any novel that contains the phrase ‘perfume is the truth’ has us whooping for joy, and in her beautiful novel, Caboni reminds us that scent has the greatest power to ignite our memories – something the main character, Elena Rossini, knows only too well. Granted a rare gift of a superior sense of smell, Elena’s passion for perfume has been passed down through generations of her family; but as this ability means painful memories about her mother are carried on the breeze, she can never truly escape her past. When a betrayal destroys her dreams, fragrant events are set in motion when Elena’s best friend invites her to Paris, and she grabs at the chance to start afresh. Searching for a composition within her family’s historic archives, Elena’s new goal becomes the replication of a secret scented recipe that nobody in her family managed to master…

Buy it at Penguin

 

By Suzy Nightingale

From harlots & hippies: how patchouli got cool again

Patchouli might as well be called the ‘Marmite of the perfume world’ as those of us who fall firmly in the LOVE IT camp have our passionately held views matched only by those who devoutly HATE IT. But perhaps if you have always languished on the loathing side of the fragrant fence, you might have your mind changed by this book we’ve recently added to our Fragrant Reads bookshelves…?

Part of a series of extremely informative ‘naturals notebooks’ on some of perfumery’s key ingredients, written and published in conjunction with NEZ (the French olfactory magazine) and LMR (Laboratoire Monique Rémy – one of the world’s leading producers of naturals used in the fragrance industry); Patchouli is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into their favourite fragrance notes. As confirmed patchouli-heads, here at The Perfume Society, of course we had to begin with this one!

 

‘Once seen as a scent favoured by courtesans and hippies,’ NEZ explain (hello, yes, we feel seen) ‘patchouli has become a key ingredient in today’s perfumery. Its warm, woody and complex fragrance provides the perfect setting for fresher notes to run free, especially in chypre and ambrée perfumes.’ (Two of our favourite fragrance families there, so yes and yes again). An easy read, it manages to walk that fine line between interesting snippets of fragrant facts and a more in-depth and technical look at the processes behind how patchouli is produced. Indeed, NEZ say they wanted to ‘Explore every aspect of this exotic plant, from botany, history, art, gastronomy, literature, agriculture and chemistry, to the perfumers who use it and the perfumes they create.’

FYI: If you’re looking to learn more about patchouli, do have a look at our always-useful Ingredients section.

We really enjoyed the quotes from perfumers who adore patchouli – Bruno Jovanovic saying that ‘…if magic had a scent, it would smell of patchouli!’ and describing why he chose some of the other notes he added to his composition of Monsieur for Éditions de parfums Frédéric Malle, ‘To clothe, enhance, envelope the patchouli so it could become a flagship fragrance in Frédéric’s catalogue.’ With diagrams of historical timelines and distillation techniques, along with reviews of key fragrances to try patchouli in, it’s a short but fact-filled book that’s great to dip in and out of rather than read cover-to-cover, perhaps.

Patchouli NEZ + LMR the naturals notebook, £15.99
Buy it from shymimosa.co.uk

By Suzy Nightingale

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni is the scent-themed book we’re snuggled up with right now – why not make yourself a brew and get cosy while you read our review…?

 

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

****

Any novel that contains the phrase ‘perfume is the truth’ has us whooping for joy, and in her beautiful novel, Caboni reminds us that scent has the greatest power to ignite our memories – something the main character, Elena Rossini, knows only too well.

Granted a rare gift of a superior sense of smell, Elena’s passion for perfume has been passed down through generations of her family; but it’s a power that can all too often overwhelm her, as this ability means painful memories about her mother are carried on the breeze, and so she can never truly escape her past. When a betrayal destroys her dreams, fragrant events are set in motion when Elena’s best friend invites her to Paris, and she grabs at the chance to start afresh.

Lured by the promise of  immersing herself in the world of scent once again, the ancient art of composing perfume beckons our protagonist. Searching for a secret recipe within her family’s historic archives, Elena’s new goal becomes the replication of a composition noone in her family managed to master. Having met a man who’s harbouring his own clandestine past; before long, she’s following the scent trail toall manner of mysterious discoveries. Because, as she was told all those years ago:

Remember Elena, perfume is the truth. The only thing that really counts. Perfume never lies, perfume is what we are, it’s our true essence…’

From the landscape of Florence to the sun-drenched lavender fields, this a book to delight all perfume-lovers – a novel that you’ll dive in to, nose first.

Buy it from Penguin U.K. (BLack Swan imprint, 2016)

In the mood for some more perfume-related books? We have a whole scented bookshelf of Fragrant Reads – from non-fiction historical explorations to contemporary criticism, with a plethora of perfume-related reading you can get your nose stuck in, right now!

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads – scent books to snuggle up with

Now there’s a distinct nip in the air, now is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book – and we have a whole scented selection of great books to recommend you in our Fragrant Reads library of reviews.  All of them focus on our favourite subject (obvs), with some specifically on the topic of perfume, while others explore the wider scent-scape of our sense of smell.

We read A LOT of books about perfume, but we don’t always have time to write up our reviews in full. So lately, we have been concentrating on updating our virtual library with some of the more recently published books we’ve come across, including this FANTASTIC volume by longtime Perfume Society subscriber, Catherine Maxwell, which we will pull out of the bookshelf for you now and examine below…

Scents & Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture, by Catherine Maxwell

We’re honoured that Catherine has been a Perfume Society subscriber pretty much since day one, so when we heard she’d published a book, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. And even more wonderful was the realisation that her choice of subject tied together two of our greatest loves – perfume and books. Delving deep into literary culture, she explores the myriad ways writers have been influenced and inspired by perfume, and how scent can become an invisible ‘character’ or reflect the inner workings of an actual character’s mind. More than that – the way a writer describes and uses scent can give us an insight into their own personality. We were particularly fascinated by how outrageously catty Virginia Woolf, for example, could be!

Catherine’s inclusions from her personal diaries and correspondence reveal Woolf loathed strong perfumes, and had very exacting opinions about those women who wore it (we feel she definitely wouldn’t have approved of us!) On meeting the writer Katherine Mansfield, Maxwell relates, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary that she wished ‘that one’s first impression of K.M. was not that she stinks like a civet cat that had taken to street walking.’ Later, Maxwell cites Woolf’s further biting comments regarding overly scented women, quoting an occasion Woolf condemned some women she’d met in the library, saying ‘A more despicable set of creatures I never saw. They come in furred like seals and scented like civets.’ Don’t hold back, Virginia – what do you really think?! Further writers and their works are examined – from Oscar Wilde – Catherine also draws on a wealth of contemporary material such as ettiquette guides, advertising, beauty manuals and perfumer’s guides. Altogether, it’s the most eye-opening account – a scented snapshot of perhaps the greatest literary period in history – and a must-read for anyone who loves literature and wants to enhance their sensorial understanding (and enjoyment of literature.

Publisher: Oxford University Press 2017

At Amazon

*****

By Suzy Nightingale

The Scented Letter Perfume & Culture issue launches

Perfume & Culture is the theme of the just-published edition of The Perfume Society‘s The Scented Letter magazine, in which we explore the many exciting ways fragrance is crossing over into the arts – infusing theatre, literature, ballet and art installations with its sensory magic – and at the growing trend for artists to launch perfume ranges of their own.

In this issue you can expect to find…

• For Lights, Camera, Aldehydes!, award-winning blogger and author Persolaise was inspired by his twin passions for film and fragrance

The Scent of a Novel is the article which won Julia Berick the ‘Rising Star’ Jasmine Award – and now you can read it in full

• Suzy Nightingale lifts the velvet curtain on the actors and film directors who use fragrance as a tool to create a mood or get into a role in Perfuming A Part

 Bottle design is an art in itself – so we report on the exquisite fragrance flacons which broke all records in The Perfume Bottles Auction 2019

 

• Novelist Jane Thynne – who weaves perfume into her bestsellers – shares her olfactory life in Memories, Dreams, Reflections

And of course, as usual, we bring you all the Latest Launches, news, events – and so much more!

Our 60-page multi Jasmine Award-winning magazine is your very best way to keep up to date with all that’s happening in the scented world. Described as an essential read by industry insiders and perfume-lovers alike, the 60-page magazine is available FREE for our VIP Club Members online (sign in to view) or to purchase the coffee-table worthy glossy print version, you can order your copies here for £15 (£12.50 for VIPs)